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Vogel weaves together strands of evidence into a complete fabric including, among other aspects of Smithâs environment, the content of his daily dictation of scriputre and revelationâall contributing to a nearly complete view of what occurred on any given day in Smithâs lfie. The result is as much intellectual history as traditional biography. Readers will feel engaged in the dramatic, formative events in the prophetâs life against a backdrop of theology, local and national politics, Smith family dynamics, organizational issues, and interpersonal relations. One can form a mental picture, and many will find themselves carrying on an internal dialogue about the issues raised.
Vogel addresses the following broad themes:
1. The home that Joseph Smith was raised in was religiously divided. His motherâs family was orthodox and partly mystical; his fatherâs family tended toward rationalism and skepticism. Josephâs maternal grandfather published an account of seeing a heavenly light and hearing Jesusâ voice. Josephâs paternal grandfather promoted Thomas Paineâs skeptical critique of the Bible, The Age of Reason.
2. When Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. president in 1828, it was a key transitional period in American history. Jackson was a Mason and an advocate of secularism, which alarmed evangelical Protestants.
3. The Smith family experienced a series of financial setbacks and lost their farm in 1825. Joseph felt disinherited and saw no way of escapeâno chance for his family to regain its former standing in the community.
4. Joseph found solace in religion. In the early 1820s, he had a powerful conversion experience and felt that Jesus had forgiven him of his sins. This inspired him to share the gospel message with others, particularly with his own family. About the same time, Smith found a talent for preaching and delivered âpassableâ Methodist sermons at a nearby revival.
5. Over time, Joseph became aware that people trusted him and that he could be an influence for good or ill, that even through nefarious means, God worked through him when his heart was right. He realized this when he led groups in search of Spanish treasure in New York and Pennsylvania. Although no treasure was found, the men sincerely believed that Smith had a spiritual gift and could see where casks of gold were hidden in the earth. This training ground in spiritual leadership was invaluable because the prophet learned how to create an environment for beliefâone in which people could exercise faith and be converted to Christ through the sensible influence of the Spirit, all prior to the overarching work of restoring primitive Christianity.
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